July 14, 2016

Exploring Creative Korea: The ICCPR 2016 in Seoul


The 9th International Conference on Cultural Policy Research was held last week at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea. I was there, along with several CCPS colleagues, PhD students and graduates for what was a very stimulating few days. Seoul, the first Asian venue for this conference, was a setting which was timely and appropriate. Korea has been the home, in recent years, to a vibrant re-imagining of state-led initiatives in culture in relation to city regeneration, cultural diplomacy and the cultural economy, culminating in the hugely regionally and globally successful Hallyu wave of music, film and TV. These achievements, now retrospectively re-branded into a strategic vision for Creative Korea, provided the backdrop to the event as researchers and policymakers gathered to learn from, reflect on and contextualise them in the longer history of the project of cultural policy.

Personally the week started on a rather sombre note, having escaped an especially damp UK summer, dampened a bit more by the deepening gloom of the post-Brexit political crisis and arriving in a Seoul that was being brushed by the edge tropical storm to welcome conference go-ers with a thorough drenching. This, and jet-lag, might have accounted for the rather downbeat tone in the opening session on the Changing Role of Cultural Policy in the 21st century – and certainly all the speakers in various ways identified the Brexit vote as reflecting a significant change to the global context in which research in the field could operate. For me it was hard to get away from the sense that if, among the already proliferating interpretations of the meaning of the result, Brexit was a vote against a vision of a tolerant, outward looking UK, then British cultural policy itself, and its attendant research community, had also somehow failed. The catharsis of discussion, though, and the reminder that other places in the world (including the Mexico of Gonzalo Enrique-Soltero’s contribution) faced challenges in the social and cultural landscape which were even more immediate than those in the UK, helped me to re-focus on the on-going contributions that research in this field should still aspire to make. This re-awakening was helped by an opening ceremony in which performances of traditional Korean dance and music were accompanied by some slick video introductions to Seoul and to Korea and by some words of introduction from eminent local dignitaries and the organising committee. I’m often struck by how international conferences are so much better at this kind of thing than we are in Britain and, while the cynic in me might reflect that there’s nothing academics like better than being told how important we are, the warmth and sincerity of these greetings made for a very welcome start to the week’s activities.

The rest of the programme was packed with papers and themes. Amongst many potential highlights I’ll pick out three memories from the sessions I saw. First were from the sessions and papers which were addressing the theme of cultural work. Some years ago an influential paper asked where work was in creative industries policy. On the evidence of these sessions (including about ‘Inequality, Meritocracy and Wellbeing in the Cultural Industries’ and ‘Artistic Survival and Public Policy’), it is still being looked for and found in diverse places as researchers attempt to identify and to explore the realities or delusions of work in the creative sector. I’m writing a new module on this topic, and the papers and discussions I saw here will be of great use in shaping these issues on behalf of our students. Second I was really struck by a paper from Takashi Ishigaki on the use of film-showings as a mechanism for re-building community bonds in Tsumani-struck Japan. The author had worked as a volunteer on the program and displayed images of films screened on the side of buildings in village squares or in community centres, for children and adults, all provided free by local distributors. It offered a nice reminder of the important work that apparently simple forms of cultural participation can do in re-establishing ‘normal life’ in a traumatised region.

Finally the closing plenary, featuring an address on 'Cultural Strategies of Urban Regeneration in the Instagram Age' from Sharon Zukin, author of the influential Loft Living, with a discussion from an associated panel, was genuinely memorable. This was not least a result of its location in the spectacular setting of Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza, itself perhaps exemplifying the kind of ‘McGuggenisation’ that the panel and others introduced and critiqued. Alongside the celebration of the potential of the nomination of cities as ‘creative’ Professor Zukin also reminded us of the ambiguities and tensions in this process. For all the celebration of such initiatives, they might also be complicit in the re-shaping of the city as a façade for the aesthetic delight of the elites of global finance, or for extracting value from tourists rather than the cultural enrichment of its citizenships – a point made forcefully by a local discussant, Professor Dong-Yeun Lee of the Korea National University of Arts. It was a telling discussion that highlighted the inherent tensions between visions of culture (and the city) for policymakers as, on the one hand a thing to be produced and consumed and, on the other, a space to be lived in and shared.

It was especially nice to experience all this with colleagues from the UK cultural policy research community, as well as several of our PhD students – some of whom were presenting and responding to papers themselves, and some of whom, as Seoul natives, were able to act as valuable restaurant guides too. That, and the return of the sun by the end of the week, made for an inspiring and energising conference. My sincere congratulations and thanks to the organisers for their hard work in putting it together.

June 21, 2016

Reflecting on The Mediated Self Project

An image by MSP student Lec Tang from his Mediated Self portfolio

We’ve now completed the first run through of our new module The Mediated Self Project. This was an IATL-funded Strategic Project to develop a module for our Master’s programmes to critically engage students with the processes and consequences of personal and professional forms of self-mediation as enabled by media and digital technologies. You can see our previous entries about this here.

In developing the module we were interested to enhance skills needed to mediate the self, to give students the space to practice and play with these skills and to reflect on why they might be necessary in contemporary life and work, how they can be resisted, played with and adapted. Having set, assessed and fed-back on our students' work, and collected their evaluations, we’re in a position to consider what we’ve learned in the process.

Lesson 1: A Different Approach to Delivery

First, this was a module that tried to take a different approach to delivery and assessment. We avoided a simple seminar-topic-reading-assessment based model and instead constructed a framework, based around ‘themes’ and ‘skills’ and mixed up teaching to include two symposia, technical sessions on video, photography and writing for the web (delivered by Rob Batterbee from the Careers and Skills Academic Technology team) a documentary film and a discussion around a novel The Circle by Dave Eggers. It may have been that some students felt there was a lack of more formal ‘lecture’ delivery styles and a clear narrative through-line for the module but generally this made for a dynamic, riskier and potentially richer teaching and learning experience. We especially felt this at the very start of the module where we’d asked students to come to the first session having made, with very little instruction, a video introducing themselves. Walking into a teaching room with not much more, in terms of material to ‘deliver’, than the hope that students will do what you’ve asked over a vacation was a bit nerve-wracking. The time, effort and skill that had gone into the student videos reassured us that students had bought into what we were trying to do – even if they didn’t wholly understand why we wanted them to do it this way! Subsequent sessions similarly rewarded this trust in students.

Lesson 2: A Different Approach to Assessment

Second, the forms of assessment that we used – an online mediated portfolio based on a curated self-media product – and a critical reflection on the process of producing it – allowed us to push the boundaries between theory and practice in a way which is well worth refining. One of the original impetus’s for the module was an identified lack in the curriculum of a means to test and develop many of the skills that students already possess and are being pushed to take up in media and creative industries (as well as other areas of work and life) – which we might crudely define as reflecting forms of digital and social media literacy – and which aren’t easily translatable into ‘conventional’ modes of assessment, such as exams or written assignments. These conventional forms still have their value but are arguably constitutive of print forms of literacy and, for some students, feel useless or even irrelevant for their future lives.

Lesson 3: Nothing more Practical than a Good Theory

This module was practical and applied in its nature but it was also critically informed practice, and we wanted to change the way students think about media, online life and the ubiquity of digital technologies. The skills that we want our students to develop - of research, critical reflection or of weighing evidence in the construction of narrative arguments – might indeed be wedded to conventional assessment strategies more for the convenience of assessors than assessed, but we also want them to use this in the workplace and in daily life. There is certainly value in exploring new ways in which they can be captured. The quality of the work produced this year – which you can see examples of here – and the experience of working with students to produce it, should enable us to provide both excellent examples and clearer guidance to future students in approaching these tasks.

Lesson 4: We're all in this together (aren't we?)

Finally it has been interesting and gratifying to see the interest that the project has generated amongst colleagues in the Centre, in the University and beyond. We feel very fortunate to have had the luxury to develop a module in this way, thanks to IATL, our original team of student stakeholders and the various kinds of expertise, within and beyond the University, on which we’ve been able to draw. You can read our interim and final project reports here and we’ll be presenting on the first year of the module at a Window on Teaching session in the Autumn Term. Thanks most of all to the students for their hard work. They really did step up to be co-researchers in the development of the curriculum for the next cohort and then delivering insightful and unique windows on their mediated lives.

February 01, 2016

The Mediated Self Project Symposium

Our IATL supported Mediated Self Project module, that we’ve blogged about before here and here has begun in earnest this term, and SaturdayStudents & Speakers in our afternoon Round Table discussionsaw the first of our symposia. One rationale for the module is to provide a place to explore and reflect on the place of self-mediation in professional life, either in transforming how we work, especially in the cultural, creative and media industries, or producing new forms of work entirely. With this in mind we invited four people whose working lives we thought might exemplify these changes to reflect on their experiences with our students.

Our speakers were Callum Goodwilliam, a facilitator at Squared Onlineand Warwick graduate, Marie Haycocks of Certanovo, life-coach and image consultant, Jon Bounds a writer and Pete Ashton an artist. We asked students to prepare for the day by researching our speakers through their online presences, and asked speakers to respond to our themes in explaining their own career trajectories. We followed this with a roundtable discussion at which students were able to ask questions, both practical and general, in relation to their own work on producing a Mediated Self portfolio.

A number of interesting themes emerged from the day for me – but I thought I’d highlight three. Firstly the discussion confirmed, gladly given our premise, that working on or managing the self is an important component of contemporary working life. The very existence of a market for Marie’s services, and indeed the accompanying forms of accreditation and qualification which underpin her practice are a strong indication of this. Online and offline forms of self-management and representation, though, also reveal some interesting tensions, especially in relation to the development of the technologies of mediation. More than one of our speakers referred to their own changing perspectives on and experiences of self-mediation as their appreciation of the implications of the online context grew. Callum bravely shared early Facebook photos, and early attempts at blogging, both of which he suggested he might prefer to be no longer accessible. Jon by contrast, and in opposition to the story of an internet that never forgets, had some early published work – pioneering work in relation to the short history of blogging - that was no longer visible. Both stories were perhaps a timely reminder that these forms of self-mediation are often achieved on terms over which we have little control. It was a theme re-iterated by Pete’s rules of self-mediation, which included knowing what the platforms we use are getting from us as we use them. Awareness of this perhaps helps rebalance the power dynamics between our abilities to mediate ourselves through technology and the possibility of being mediated by that technology. We might assume that these skills are tacit, especially amongst young people, and as the infrastructure of the internet and social media become more embedded into everyday life we might think less about them, but they can and perhaps should be learned.

A second theme related to the notion of being ‘authentic’ or ‘true’ to oneself. While ‘being oneself’ is the assumed path to various forms of success in contemporary life, it seemed easier to say than do. Marie, whose progression to her current role was strongly informed by her family and personal history wrestled with having different selves in personal and professional contexts, at least inasmuch as these were represented in talking about her business. Her ‘brand values’ and her ‘personal values’ became blurred, in a context in which reflections on her own experiences fed directly into the service she provided. Jon, by contrast, described using a variety of online selves in his various professional roles –some personal, some political and some reflecting the playful subversive potentials of digital cultures. He was careful and disciplined in policing the boundaries between them, but this also led to some difficult decisions about the appropriate forum for some outputs of his creative work. The possibility of a diffuse and diverse identity emcompassing the complexity of human experience was one of the utopian ideals of the early internet cultures. The political ambiguities of the more contemporary drive towards a single, coherent self, exemplified by Mark Zuckerberg’s assertions about integrity and identity, perhaps puts even more importance on the decisions we make about how we represent ourselves online and through what platforms we choose to do that work.

Finally, Pete described the importance of being driven by our own interests and enthusiasms in making a distinctive mediated self, and also described his own trajectory towards a situation of ‘not caring’ what people thought of his work, beyond an aspiration that they thought it interesting and worthwhile in the chaotic world of the web and its reputation economy . His imperative for us to 'create our own metrics' for success, rather than be driven by ‘likes’ or ‘views’ or ‘shares’ might well become a motto for our module. All the speakers seem to espouse the need to 'be the/your message' in a way that moves us from McLuhan's the 'media is the message' to 'self mediation is the message'. We will be exploring these ideas with our students for the rest of the module and we hope to have challenged them into thinking about the mediated self as NOT simply self-branding or personal PR or self-marketing. It is far more than that and touches on a variety of value systems. Like the rest of day, it should, provide some food for thought and inspiration for our students as they explore their own forms of mediation.

Many thanks to the speakers and students for their contributions – and to the staff at the Teaching Grid for allowing us to use their space on a Saturday.

September 16, 2015

Please like this page

Today’s news that Facebook has begun the process of developing a ‘dislike’ button resonates with some of the issues I reflect on in my new book on Understanding Cultural Taste. The book is an exploration of the relations between taste and social and cultural life and it includes a chapter on Digitalizing Taste, in which I speculate on the particular significance of taste to online cultures, including those of social networks such as Facebook.Facebook

‘Liking’ and ‘disliking’ has become something of a taken-for-granted dimension of social networks, for both users and the networks themselves. They are central to the very creation of a profile – in which identifying and sharing the music, films, books or TV that we like, as much as our occupation, our education, or our relationship status, is tacitly understood as a kind of performance of the type of person we are or, perhaps, the type of person we would like to appear to be. The display of such tastes – and indeed the possibility of judgment of the tastes of others amongst our ‘friends’- becomes part of the pleasure of contemporary cultural consumption as we identify and connect with common communities of interest, or distance ourselves from others. There are also the pleasures of gaining likes for photos we’ve taken, or for links to interesting stories or videos which we’ve ‘shared’, or for more general bon mots, to get instantly reassuring and re-inforcing feedback from our networks that we are appropriately cool, witty, radical or affected by and engaged in current events. Equally there are the significant feelings of disquiet and insecurity when expected likes do not materialise. Such anxieties perhaps reflect the success of social networks in constructing themselves as microcosms of social life more generally.

What might be more uniquely contemporary is that, for the networks themselves, our ‘likes’ are not just descriptions of our characteristics and interests but are crucial to their business models. The spread of the ‘like button’ across the web (there’s one in the corner of this page. Please click it!) indicates the extent to which liking has become part of its very infrastructure. The lists of things we like and the clicks on pages and posts with which we interact through liking are not just positive feedback or commentary – they are also data which feed into the complex construction of individual and collective users as products to be sold on to advertisers. They also feed into the algorithmic construction of news feeds and searches, in which data about the kinds of things we have ‘liked’ in the past is used to probabilistically predict the kinds of things we might be interested in in the future.

It is this latter aspect – crucial to what Gerlitz and Helmond describe as ‘the like economy’ – which has been at the heart of the controversy over whether Facebook should have a dislike button at all. Facebook’s historical reluctance to include such a button, they argue, reveals the crudity of ‘liking’ as a tool to express the range of sentiments (agreement, enthusiasm, even sarcasm) which users might wish to share in social networks. It also reflects the construction of such networks as spaces where the default setting, as it were, is to ‘like, enjoy or recommend as opposed to discuss or critique’ (Gerlitz and Helmond, 2013: 1358). Dislikes are as important to the performance of taste in relation to identity, we might speculate, but harder to monetize.

It is interesting to hear the parameters which Mark Zuckerberg has placed around the proposed dislike button this morning – that the aim is to allow for the expression of empathy or solidarity even when ‘every moment isn’t good’. These seem laudable enough ambitions – but raise interesting questions about the ways in which data that will inevitably be gathered about dislikes can and should be put to use. What does Facebook get out of the effort to develop this innovation? As interesting for me is the extent to which this move fits with the ambition of organisations like Facebook to shape and alter social norms in the digital or machine age. As I suggest in my book, Facebook doesn’t really know what we like. Liking is a complex process involving, amongst other things, sensory, aesthetic and moral forms of judgment that emerge from a range of life experiences. Facebook knows what we click on. Its ambition might be to encourage or train its users such that the latter more frequently equates with the former but – thankfully in my view- it has a long way to go to achieve that.

July 22, 2015

Shanghai City Lab Second Cultural Economy Summer School

The Second Shanghai City Lab (SCL) Cultural Economy International Summer School was held at the School of Media and Design, Shanghai Jaio Tong University, between 3rd and 17th of July 2015. It was a full two weeks (13 days) full time with lectures, visiting talks, case studies, field trips and social events. This year 55 students attended; many of these were masters students but there were also PhD and even young faculty scholars. Students had come as far as Stanford and Oxford. Altogether, the 2015 summer school featured 16 formal lectures by nine faculty members, visits to 13 different Shanghai cultural sites, six visiting professionals talking about their industries in the city, three days of group work (supervised urban research in Shanghai), and a final presentation day. The photo below was take on a site visit to the creative cluster M50 -- it doesn't include everyone.


This year’s theme was “Work in the Cultural Economy”. We began with the questions -- What is it to work in the cultural economy? What kind of labour is involved, and what kind of skills are required? What kind of career strategies are needed? This was framed by Bourdieu's theory of the field of cultural production and the 'trajectory' cultural producers within it. These questions continued throughout the various lectures, discussions and site visits. And mostly because we had some great visiting professionals, as well as visiting scholars, students were able to find out what working in the creative field like in Shanghai.

Lectures included:

Justin O’Connor (Monash University) on cultural economy, cultural field and cultural work.

Jonathan Vickery (Univeristy of Warwick) on cultural policy, cultural economy and cities.

Gu Xin (Monash University) on the field of Chinese contemporary art, creative city and creative clusters.

Scott Brook (University of Canberra) on Bourdieu, applied field theory, the literary field and cultural work in Australia.

Jen Webb (University of Canberra) on graduate careers and creativity.

Shan Shilian (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on China’s cultural policy.

Li Kanghua (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on Shanghai’s cultural economy and policy contexts.

Deng Lin (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) on cultural economy field research.


[This picture above was our seminar in a Maker space in Shanghai]. Our visiting professionals included Professor Wang Hong Tu of China’s first MFA program at Fudan University – talking about Shanghai’s literary field and the life young creatives can expect. Lisa Movias, now head of the China bureau of the Art Newspaper, talked to us about Shanghai’s emerging cultural milieu and the new venues in the city. Social theatre pioneer, Zhao Chuan, told us about experimental Chinese contemporary art in Shanghai and particularly his Grassroot Stage organization. Advertising guru Peter Soh gave us an insight into the communications media industries in the city, and Linda Lin similarly opened up the animation industry, with particular reference to its global influences.


Our site visits this year – both tutor-led visits, with talks, and the students own group research – included the Rockbund Art Museum; The Shanghai Bund; the Old Town; the old EXPO 2010 site – particularly the China Art Museum and the Power Station of Art.

We paid particular attention to two urban phenomenon – first, the new West Bund Cultural Corridor (including the Long Museum, Yuz Museum, K11 art space, Photography Museum, and the public art and design of this expanse of land); and second, the Creative Clusters, particularly Creative Warehouse, Tianzifang, South Suzhou River, M50. We also had a day discussing Maker and Hacker culture, with site visits to pioneer David Li’s space in south Shanghai, and new enterprise DF Robot, and their community space at the giant technology enterprise park in Pudong.

The two weeks ended with two days of student group research in the city, where each student chose a site and topic for investigation. Research methods could be experimental – using film and photography – or standard methods, like interviews, observation, compiling data. On the last day – the Friday – we heard all eight presentations, after which feedback was given, and then finally, all students received a signed and stamped certificate for successfully completing the Summer School.

For more pictures, see my Flickr site:


Summer module Event


Last term’s summer ‘practice’ module – Culture and Social Innovation – saw a student group of eight generate a two day micro-festival. The site for this event was the NHS-City Council Mental Health and well-being centre, the POD, (situated in Coventry city centre). This site was not just a venue for a series of performances – the POD was a partner in delivering something that attracted over 100 people.It was exhausting (the run-up to the event involved weeks of non-stop work).

The brand concept for the event was the idea of student Emilia Moniszko – who is now developing KALEJDOSKOP as an independent arts platform. And to quote from its strategy document:

KALEJDOSKOP is interdisciplinary, and aims to combine some of the most dynamic aspects of contemporary art, the creative industries and social enterprises. It is a platform and will provide a space for launching new projects, events and initiatives. As an organisation, its priority will be production, engagement and generating value. As a series of events, its priority will be diversity, democracy, participation, and the ‘right to the city’. KALEJDOSKOP, fully developed, will act as agent, entrepreneur, creative producer, cultural management, researcher, consultant and advocate. It will both act on its own initiative, and in partnership.

The first KALEJDOSKOP event at Coventry POD lasted from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening – and whose dynamic program included the following: [SEE the Facebook page for more]



Friday Evening:
> Seven performances including: Poetry, South Asian Poetry, Rap, Fusion of Punk and Folk.
> An open discussion with a panel consisting of local small theatre director, artist, film-maker and a chair of BOPA.
> A short film screening of a film on Coventry’s history and cultural evolution.


> An alternative tour of Coventry – walking the city’ – exploring urban memory, contested narratives of the city, commerce and anti-commerce, and the relation between culture and the social landscape.
> Food and drink buffet, representing the City’s cultural diversity
> A sonic improvisation with ‘Collective // Pod’ and members of the audience, against a screening of films created by West Midlands based filmmakers.

This event has generated a dialogue, from which the POD has invited KALEJDOSKOP to produce a Friday night special event once a quarter (three months), for a year. This will launch Emilia's career as a cultural entrepreneur once she has completed her MA (in October).


Spillover again…

I have blogged in the past about an emerging European research project on which I am a partner, and which in part grew out of some work I did with the European Centre for Creative Economy in Dortmund in 2012-13. The last meeting in Essen in April saw the launch of a new Wiki space (photo below), and since then we have had the final report from our consultants TFCC (Tom Fleming Cultural Consultancy). See also links below – then my comments will follow, but these pertain to the as-yet-to-be published Final Report. I think this will come out very soon – our next scheduled meetings are Amsterdam end of July, then Essen again in September.



On the Final report -- I think an important aspect of the report is the importance awarded to objective, impartial and wide-ranging research – this is important in two respects (i) research (particularly for arts organisations or policy consultancies) is so often 'information gathering' or the production of ‘evidence’, which, as we know, is required to inform or legitimate decision-making. With research on spillover, however, the ‘information’ is not simply ‘there’ to be gathered; it is embedded in forms of knowledge and practice that need to be explored. The old dichotomy of positive and exploratory research (or however you want to phrase it) is not useful here. Research will be more process-oriented, as along the way we need to discover possibilities, conditions of thinking, as well as practice, overturn assumptions on the nature of phenomenon like 'impacts' or 'benefits', and the definition of valid aims – at least, this is what we have found in aiming for a paradigm shift in our understanding of the socio-economic function of the cultural sector. I must admit, I have been getting impatient on how the project has taken almost two years just to define its aims and scope, but on reflection see that this time was needed – and the process has been as significant as what we have ended up with (right now two reports and a wiki page).


(ii) There are some institutional problems with spillover research. It contains what is outside the usual orbit of cultural research – where the people, the organisations, the products, the outcomes, are clearly delimited -- a spillover involves all, or a number of these, with uncertain outcomes. The centrality of free and impartial research is important given the complex ‘ontology’ of the spillover phenomenon – in its broadest sense. Certain forms of spillover can emerge spontaneously, and, at the time, largely undetected. We will need to re-define ‘evidence’, or the material for thought, or at least become more innovative in our understanding of how data can be used. In theory at least, there’s no reason why spillover is not ‘whirlpool-like’, with multiple spillover impacts generated by primary spillover effects or all kinds of compound reactions going on – in the age of virtual knowledge ‘Iconomies’ and post-Triple Helix model…[cf. Professor Gilson Schwartz’s recent Centre organised IAS-fellowship lectures] where new patterns of knowledge production are emerging, through mobile, innovation networks, commons, the ‘gamefication’ of collaboration: it is not so much the ‘effects’ we are looking for, but the way culture and CC actors can engage strategically in open innovations and generate value for and from spillover dynamics. As a research aim, we are starting to look for levels of spillover beyond ‘impacts’ – i.e. not just conceived as one object hitting another object, generating something obvious out of the impact -- or all those other externalities that happen as a matter of course. Spillover is moving more into a productive process outside of organizational entities, with layered dynamics and many possible points of value diffusion or dissemination…and various networked actors or agencies involved in various parts of the process. The underlying assumptions of our spillover concept is still rooted in the old incubator-investment-Silicon Valley, organisation-based, model?

One challenge we face is that our rationale for spillover research (and a large part of the motive of the main funding partners – Arts Council England, for starters) is that spillover can provide a broader route to justifying public investment in culture. In making an emphatic appeal for public investment, I think we need to firm-up our concept of ‘public investment’, particularly in relation to the ambiguous role of government in cultural policy as well as the different and shifting constitution of ‘public’ within each EU country – and in relation to EU level bodies. This is true in terms of the way ‘public’ funding is often calibrated, using partnership agreements, mixed or blended funding, and involving entrepreneurship.

Given, as the Final Report states, we are not rehearsing an argument for public funding per se, we also need to explore what we mean by ‘investment’, given that our understanding of a ‘return’ is more complex than the past policy language of benefits or value. For if spillover is as significant as we think it is – involving the broader milieu, habitus, social, industrial or organisational fields in which cultural activity does or can operate -- then we might find a tension opens up between the assumptions underpinning broad public funding and the specific aims of public investment for new or increased value. For it would make sense for public funders to progressively prioritise cultural organisations or CCIs that have spillover capabilities – or even fund spillover activity as a distinct genre of value production. If spillover becomes equally as important as the value generated by the core competencies of cultural organisations, then spillover could change how those competencies are configured or exercised.

What I like about the Final Report, and the project as it is developing, is the way we insist that the orientation and ‘framing’ of research is informed by the current requirements of both policy and strategy -- that there should be a consistent dialogue between the enterprise of research and the debates and thinking-processes of policy and its implications for strategy (i.e. policy interpreted at the level of the organization or practice). These areas should not be run together, or research be treated like the handmaiden of policy, but they both involve separate discourses, values and procedures.This could be problematic, or could be a needed level of critique on the way publicly-subsidised cultural organisations work.

I think we probably need a distinct and strong agenda for each of three quite different levels and their audiences – the research and academic communities, the policy community (bringing together national and EU policy thinkers, so often working apart), and the level of cultural managers, entrepreneurs and industry innovators (both inside and outside the creative industries). And one important dimension of spillover research is how it can broach the separation of the constituencies that represent the public ‘cultural sector’ and the ‘creative industries’. While, self-evidently, publicly subsidized institutions and commercial businesses operate in very different financial ecosystems, our concern is to find how reconstructed public policies can be instrumental and empowering to both. Up to now, urban policy (creative class, creative city) has been the means to integrate culture’s torn halves or define how arts and CCIs are bound up. However, this has reached its limits. Spillover could define a more effective framework for a fully ‘cultural’ economy.

Debt and the Public University


On the 11th June I was one of a Roundtable Discussion Panel, called ‘Debt and the Public University’ (2015, 16.00-17.30 International Manufacturing Centre). The Panel featured Oliver Davis (French), Lauren Tooker (Politics), Myka Tucker-Abramson (English), Jonathan Vickery (Cultural Policy Studies), Callum Cant and Hope Worsdale (Warwick Free Education). The occasion was IAS Visiting Fellow Joshua Clover – a notable scholar from University of California, Davis, award-winning poet, and radical activist. Clover is known for his theories of ‘crisis capitalism’, organizing resistance to student debt-loads in California, and his focusing on the significance of debt in reshaping the priorities and direction of higher education. This Panel was asked to tackle two questions – concerning our understanding of the nature of debt, and our understanding of how it is changing our profession (and by implication, the student—professor relationship).

My contribution, on reflection, contained some mawkish nostalgia for the days when student fees were ushered in by New Labour. Yes, it was the Left who introduced student fees. Blunkett, a one-time far-left local government activist, vowed they would not rise from the £1000 per annum limit at which he had set it (which, I remember, sounded hollow even at the time – even if, even then, the £1000 seemed more like a heavily subsided contribution rather than a costed fee). More importantly was how the Left rationalised this decision. I remember several lines of debate, not least references to how Blunkett’s ‘Methodism’ (as with Gordon Brown’s Scottish Calvinism later) introduced a component of personal responsibility to public expenditure (as a moral obligation of government) -- teaching youngsters the ‘true’ value of money’ was surely a good thing. Other, more political lines of argument, went something like (and I paraphrase) ‘plumbers and builders should not be subsidising the education of the middle classes’; another argument was similarly made on ‘class’ grounds, albeit policy-based: ‘Fees will be means-tested, in reality only paid by ‘middle class’ students, providing a raft of scholarships for all ‘working class’ students’. Fees could thus introduce a new financial mechanism of social equality. At the time, the former (ethical) argument and the latter (foiled) plan, were both subsequently inadequate to the shifts in both political thinking and public opinion that emerged. From this two things are obvious: that public policies (like fees for higher education) are rarely subject to thorough research and evaluation and a management of their consequences -- policy makers often have little imaginative anticipation of the lateral or unintended outcomes of their policies. Debt has generated social conditions that threaten to exceed the very orbit of public policies, and like a runaway train, are generating problems so pervasive they will cease to be categorised as ‘student debt’. And further – with reference to Joshua Clover’s various talks, lectures and statements (on You Tube, for example) – this exceeds the often mundane arguments between the current political ‘Left and Right’.

Clover’s thinking on this subject by-passed a lot of the chatter on the current affairs of subsidy, costs or particular HE policies. Debt, rather, has become a structural feature of global 'crisis capitalism'. Debt has become an industry, and so an embedded part of the economy. The agents of debt (between 2006-10) brought Western economies to their knees, degrading or wiping out generations of workers investments, labour pensions and the accumulated savings of ordinary citizens. Student fees – and with it the financial structures of higher education – are being systematically absorbed into this industry, and while banks and politicians alike tend to frame student fees in terms of ‘investment’ or even ‘credit, of which there is precious little policy research on the long term consequences and political implications. That debt is systematic and pervasive generates a new economic reality, to the extent that all parties, Left and Right, now accept it as a matter of fact, or an epiphenomenon of a global economy outside the political influence of any one government or even one global agency. And so what started with a perfectly reasonable attempt to introduce some moral responsibility into public finance ends up as some Frankenstein monster that, right now, doesn’t benefit anyone except the most dangerous actors on the economic stage.

July 10, 2015

What Has Cultural Policy Studies Got to Do with Supply Chain Strategy?


Photography by Alex Kharlamov

In 2014 I was awarded funding by the Institute of Advanced Teaching and Learning for an academic fellowship project. The Mediasmith Project was an experimental and particpatory series of workshops and events exploring transmedia and documentary making approaches to research. We borrowed from the expertise of filmmakers, producers, creative technologists and web developers to investigate how web-native and digital storytelling, digital media production, coding and other digital tools could inform the research process.

The final event, the Popathon x Mediasmith Project Storytelling Hack Jam took place in February 2015 but the learning has continued to inform new developments behind the scenes. Many of the methods we explored are about to be put to the test in a large-scale public research project about the public understanding of supply chains; MyChainReaction.

Professor Jan Godsell, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at WMG, was a keen participant in the Mediasmith Project workshops. During the first workshop one of the models of transmedia practice that I proposed was the creation and presentation of a film or digital asset as a seed or provocation for discussion and the creation of new narratives. By the time the third workshop had taken place (May 2014) Jan had already put a small production team together. They produced a short film about supply chains with the intention of provoking a wider public debate about them but why stop there?

Supply chains and public participation
Jan is intrigued that there is no shared definition of supply chains within academia, despite the fact that they are recognised as a discreet disciplinary field. She also suspects that awareness and understanding of supply chains amongst the wider public is relatively poor. "The issue of supply chains is of national importance. Supply chains are key in supporting economic growth, contributing to increasing both GDP and employment levels. Supply chains touch almost every aspect of our daily lives but many of us don’t know or realise this and we want to know why.” These considerations proved fertile ground for the development of a research impact project that could not only test these assumptions, but do so by inviting the public around the world to participate.

Interdisciplinary team
The research team consisting of Jan, Antony Karatzas, a research fellow at WMG, Rob Batterbee, IT Manager for Student Careers and Skills, and I submitted a proposal to the ESRC Impact Accelerator fund. The core of the project combines crowdsourcing, social networking and storytelling in a website designed to both generate research data and increase public engagement and understanding as more and more people take part. The site features an engaging example of a local supply chain, bringing to life the story of Stroud based ice cream maker Kate Lowe. Kate lives in a village where she is well known for producing delicious honeycomb ice cream. Her mother makes the honeycomb at home in Norfolk and posts it to Kate who then makes the ice cream in batches using other locally sourced ingredients. Kate’s ice cream is infamous at dinner parties and family gatherings but her ambitions are to develop a brand and sell her ice cream more widely. Website visitors are encouraged to reflect on their own participation in a supply chain and share their stories which are simultaneously pinned on the MyChainReaction map. In doing so they also answer a couple of simple questions about their knowledge of supply chains which will generate quantitative data for further research.

Transmedia integration
The website is, however, just one part of an integrated transmedia approach. We have also reserved funding for an artistic commission in which artists will be invited to respond to the themes of the project and the stories that emerge. Their work will be presented at the Global Supply Chain Debate, to be hosted at the International Digital Lab at the University of Warwick in November 2015.

Premature dissemination
Appealing for public participation adds a whole layer of marketing and communications activity usually reserved for the dissemination of research rather than the research process itself. We have debated the ethics of allowing research participants to see others' stories (but not responses to the research questions) at length, initially worrying that this may bias their participation. However, audience participation is an inherently social activity - participation depends on the motivation that stems from seeing what others have posted and the willingness to share. This decision making process impacted on the intrinsic design of the website. Should we prime the audience with a working example whilst restricting access to the crowd sourced stories to those who had registered and completed the research questions first? Or, should we make this content accessible to everyone in the hope that this will motivate others to take part? Creating such a ‘walled garden’ felt counter-intuitive and, given that the only criteria our research respondents need to satisfy are a) the possession of a valid email address and b) a story to tell, the risk of skewing the user generated content seemed to be outweighed by the social imperative to join others and take part.

'Infectious' research?
Supply chains are perhaps not the most accessible and people friendly subject so another challenge has been to find the right language by which to describe and pitch the project. Discussions of food security, provenance and sustainability have done much to highlight the importance of supply chains in relation to food and agriculture, hence our working example, but they remain less visible in other areas of public life. It’s also a question of semantics as we may well be referring to supply chains but in different terms or contexts which, we believe, have nothing to do with them e.g. the arts, education, medicine, etc. We also wanted to promote the cause and effect relationships that our interactions with supply chains produce so, after much head scratching, we arrived at the concept of a chain reaction. This gave us a unique hashtag and a call to action (with a little help from Diana Ross and RCA Records); ‘Get in the middle of a chain reaction.’ It has even inspired a spoof sing-a-along video, produced by students on the MA in Creative and Media Enterprises, designed to raise a smile and promote the project.

Ninety-five Not Out
We are acutely aware of the ambition and novelty of our approach. So far we have ninety-five stories and counting. If you are reading this why not add one more to the #MyChainReaction map?

May 16, 2015

The Future of Interdisciplinary Research – the IAS at the Shard

Warwick staff members with connections to the Warwick Institute of Advanced Study [IAS] were invited to this half-day symposium on Friday 15th May, held in the Warwick space at the spectacular Shard building in London Bridge. The Shard is becoming a showcase for the highest levels of Warwick teaching and research (and, I must say, whose rates for room rental are several stratospheres above any Humanities budget I have ever seen). This half-day event was, in part, a symposium that celebrated the first eight years of the IAS, and which gathered an audience to hear about recently funded projects in interdisciplinary research, particularly from younger scholars at Warwick (mostly IAS post-doc Fellows). With luminaries like Sir George Cox present, as well as notable interdisciplinary scholars from other universities, the ensuing Q&A and discussion was fairly substantial and the event well-worth attending (not least the lunch – what one would expect at a place like the Shard. I'm definitely going back).

IAS Event 15th May

What is the role of an IAS? It exists to promote interdisciplinarity, and also cultivate higher levels of exchange where regular faculty and departmental contexts are not effective. Considering the worldwide intellectual impact of the famous Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study (which I visited briefly when on a week’s residency at the Princeton Centre for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies in 2006 and again in 2008), the aims of the IAS project are surely compelling. But why is 'interdisciplinarity' still at issue? As Provost Professor Stuart Croft said in his introduction, there is something slightly anachronistic about the very term. We have, for decades, been discussing cross-disciplinary, multidisciplinary, transdiscilinarity and a whole range of other configurations, so why is 'interdisciplinarity' still at issue? And as Michael Hatt (Art History) said to me the day before the event, as we waited for his taxi to the rail station: the major question facing us is surely, ‘what is disciplinarity’ – what was it, ever, particularly in the Humanities?

I was, as an undergrad through the first half of the 1990s, repeatedly told by professors, and with some conviction, that within a decade all disciplinary boundaries (and their Victorian obsession with the individualist book and article-formats of presenting and delivering research) would have dissolved. This seemingly water-tight forecast – made self-evident by the authoritative writings of a generation of anti-foundationalist anti-Humanists from Habermas to Rorty, Foucault to Derrida, to Jameson and Eagleton, Lyotard to Rancière – was, at the time, indisputable. And how it deceived an entire generation of undergraduates. Their introduction to the world of research started with an ethical obligation to ‘critique the Canon’ (assuming they knew what the Canon was, which most didn’t) and a new rule of multi-perspectival interdisciplinary ‘approaches’ to everything -- to life and the meaning of the universe, and especially your undergrad essays, which in practice meant a kind of low-intensity cultural studies (a cod sociology without particular regard for methods). As for me, I feel grateful for catching the last days of some marginalised Germanic, right of centre, traditionalists. Otherwise -- your right -- I feel conned.

Well, not exactly; more accurately, I feel intrigued and fascinating in equal measure as I look back at the decades in which interdisciplinarity was a 'politics' of the institutional mediation of knowledge-construction, stimulated by the emergence of new discourses in social epistemology and sociology of knowledge, which in turn had an impact on the professors that taught me critical theory in my postgrad days. Why does intellectual history takes the form it does? It was during these postgrad days that Harvard published Randall Collins’s monumental The Sociology of Philosophies, which I still find utterly fascinating for just these reasons.

The IAS symposium opened with four statements from a panel of special guests, including Pete Churchill of the Joint Research Centre of the European Union, Rick Rylance of the AHRC and Jane Elliot of the ESRC, all largely celebrating the university sector’s collective advance in interdisciplinary research. And yet, while the symposium remained good natured and calm, the questions and comments that followed were not so taken by this institutionalised optimism (Oliver Bennett should have been present to throw some light on this).

Indeed: look at the rise of the natural sciences in the last 15 years, and the re-validation of the naturalism and empiricism so torn apart by critical theory between 1940 and 1980. Look at the unhindered rise of neo-positivism and the supremacy of ‘data’ and ‘evidence’ in defining ‘truth’. Indeed, in my undergrad days, any student naively using the words ‘truth’, ‘fact’ or ‘evidence’ would be subject to the scorn of the class, an immediate target for at least three angry quotations by the tutor from Nietzsche’s Gay Science, and without any possible retort of prejudice, marked down on the next essay.

How has neo-positivism (for Adorno, the epistemological basis of fascism) returned with a vengeance, and has become the modus operandi of the ‘knowledge society’? It is used by university managers as a template for all academic research, evaluation and management; for admissions policies, appointment policies, subject and faculty divisions of the University system, not least the REF, HEFCE and the funding agencies. The panel didn’t so effectively respond to some of these critical issues. Yet the panel did indeed offer some apposite insights and observations. Rick Rylance celebrated how the one recurring theme right now among policy wonks in Whitehall is interdisciplinarity, and in turn this offers a ‘huge’ opportunity for the academy (given how Whitehall is the last place in which models of interdisciplinarity will, or could, be innovated). However, here I could not help but think of the Whitehall revolution in 1998 and New Labour’s 'joined up policy making' and post-Major ‘anti-departmentalism’: an eternal return of the same, to (mis)quote Neitzsche. Rylance was optimistic that the sheer demands of the ‘knowledge economy’ have forced Whitehall to invest in interdisciplinarity, and in turn, research funding agencies will become more interconnected. We are truly entering a new age of the reengineering of the funding infrastructure for research, with glorious global horizons appearing in the process.

Inspiration indeed. As he noted himself, there remains a huge resistance to interdisciplinary – a lack of investment among individual academics for the necessary patterns intellectual interaction, new project formations or dynamic group work models and so on. However, it became clear to me that the disciplines as traditionally conceived were not, on the whole, regarded as a ‘problem’ or in any way bound up in the conditions for this ‘resistance’ to interdisciplinarity. For most of this event, the message being put out was that we must remain concerned for the essential and unashamed role of ‘disciplines’ – for intellectual training, academic skills, and the definition of research questions and problems. Disciplinarity is presupposed by interdisciplinarity, and so should remain the bedrock of academic life. Yet – and this was the challenge, obviating the potential conservatism such a position might entail – all disciplinarity should be perpetually subject to interdisciplinarity. All disciplines must be perpetually open to the challenges, innovations, interpretations and historicisation of their research questions and problems, and maintain a cognisance of a range of possible interpretations and outcomes. Yet, surely, said a colleague from CIM, we need institutional frameworks that facilitate this. The scenarios celebrated by the panel reflects a sector that currently favours ‘smooth’ innovations, not the kinds of friction and rapid mobility of real interdisciplinarity, which are really needed for substantial transformation. For this, universities should encourage multiple ‘joint’ appointments – where academics belong to two or more institutions (he remains with Columbia, but currently here in CIM). Material conditions and the problem of labour, indeed.

Another interesting viewpoint emerged from panel member and media don, Prof. Sarah Churchwell (UEA), who called for an interdisciplinarity of Intellectual Pluralism. This would necessitate our working at a critical ‘generalism’ and an acceptance of the generalist, not just specialists. In this line of thinking, we need to find ways of formulating particular research questions in terms ‘big enough’ to solicit a response from a range of disciplines across faculties. She cited Homi Bhabha’s recent seminar series at Harvard on the classical theme of ‘The Good Life’, inviting scholars from all disciplines to contribute. Churchwell’s contribution to the debate – if I am accurate here -- followed her assertion that the ‘inter’ dimension of interdisciplinarity challenges academics to learn how to gather and communicate with a ‘public’. This would entail, it seems, leaving behind the self-obsessed and convoluted academic sub-cultures of interdisciplinarity (the 1990s), and forge a more concentrated attention to the interrelations, interconnections and interactions of knowledge construction across the current institutional landscape. I would concur with another of her observations, that for too long, the social and intellectual processes of knowledge construction have been framed by individual careers and institutional elites. So apart from celebrating the IAS and its welcome support for interdisciplinary research, the general mood at this IAS event, among attendees at least, was one of a general scepticism. This scepticism, palpable in the discussion periods, were directed at the way the academy is shaped by a multitude of semi-concealed forces, only some of which are genuinely concerned with the formation of knowledge.

So, the ‘future’ of interdisciplinarity? We are struggling to understand its past.

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